In Defence of Ghostbusters (2016) and Why the Originals Weren’t That Great

It can be hard to remember all the way back to 2016 when the new female-led Ghostbusters movie was announced and how triggering it was for insecure men. However, now that some time has passed, let’s look back and see, was the 2016 version of Ghostbusters really as bad as everyone said? And were the originals really any good? Let’s dive in.

Ghostbusters. (L-R): Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson. Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Let me say at the beginning that the original Ghostbusters came out long before my time. I fully admit to much of the humour possibly going way over my head as a child of the 1990s. Objectively, however, this is a rough watch. The sexual aggression displayed towards Signourney Weaver’s character of Dana was almost too much to watch. From Venkman’s (Bill Murray) sexual aggression, to Rick Moranis’s creepy next-door neighbour routine, Ghostbusters could very easily have been a horror movie about the many appalling ways in which women are sexually harassed daily.

The fact that Venkman carries Thorazine, a common date-rape drug and has enough on hand to sedate Dana while being possessed by an ancient deity is troubling at the very, very least. The secretary Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) was completely degraded and devalued on the regular. Finally, can we talk about what an odd choice it was to have a main villain of this story be a representative of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for raising concerns about the environmental impacts of ghost hunting? Illustrative of 1980s values, perhaps, but still not a good look.

Ghostbusters II (L-R): Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson. Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Ghostbusters 2 was hardly any better. It featured the continued sexual harassment of Dana by Venkman, and also by her creepy boss Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol). At least they let Rick Moranis’s character be a more normal character not solely based around harassing his neighbour. The reference to a female lawyer as “kitten” was really the perfect illustration to show how these movies saw women as anything but serious. Also, was it necessary to reference Again, cheap sex jokes may have been the height of humour in the 1980s, but it definitely hold up today.

The plot of Ghostbusters 2 made even less sense than that of the original franchise entry. How could anyone in this fictional version of New York possibly think that the Ghostbusters were frauds? Surely at least some residents recalled the masses of paranormal beings that haunted the entire city? The main villain, the painting/trapped soul of Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg) played like a bad death metal concert, which was a shame considering von Homburg’s talent and caliber.

Ghostbusters (2016). L-R: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wigg, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon. Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Ghostbusters (2016), later marketed as Ghostbusters: Answer the Call was billed as an all-female reboot of the beloved Ghostbusters franchise. So many complained about the very idea of women leading a franchise whose fan base consisted of so many men happy to let the original movies’ treatment of women go unchallenged. The fact that women too could lead a comedy movie seemed too much for many fans to bear.

Seen through the lens of being a Paul Feig movie, Ghostbusters (2016) definitely succeeds in delivering what it set out to. Known for his typically female-centered comedies like Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, Ghostbusters (2016) very much continued in this tradition. Is it everyone’s type of humor? Definitely not. However, Ghostbusters (2016) was a quintessential Paul Feig female team-up movie, eccentric humor definitely included.

Even the actresses themselves have a very unique brand of humor that they brought full tilt to Ghostbusters (2016). Kate McKinnon is at her best playing an oddball, an almost otherworldly being that you either love or don’t. Melissa McCarthy is known for her body-based, often what’s considered low-brow humor. Again, are these forms of humor for everyone? No, because comedy is ultimately subjective. These particular brands of humor, though, are what these women have always done best. If you see a comedy movie starring any of these actresses, you can predict with reasonable accuracy what the story will involve.

Chris Hemsworth. Ghostbusters (2016). Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Ultimately, Ghostbusters (2016) had a very compelling seed of a story, that was too bad was never fully realized. Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) spoke about the experience of seeing ghosts, but having no one believe her. How poignant, now in the “Me Too” Era, that we could have had a powerful allegory of women having lived experiences that are frequently dismissed and disbelieved all together. Perhaps this is the core of the problem, that Ghostbusters (2016) was simply made too early to be appreciated.

The original Ghostbusters movies were centered entirely around the male gaze and male sexual wish fulfillment. That a woman as gorgeous as Sigourney Weaver would be put in a position to show attractiveness to Bill Murray or Rick Moranis is laughable at minimum. While it may not have been a great movie, Ghostbusters (2016) had the fragments of a compelling story, and didn’t rely at all on the harassment and objectification of women. 

Even the minor characters, like lovable himbo Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) was centered completely around the female gaze. He was soft-spoken, and ultimately just trying to do his best, albeit with limited success. Villain Rowan North (Neil Casey) was incredibly topical, a loner man unable to form genuine relationships with those around him who fancies himself above everyone else on planet Earth. There are so many Rowan North’s that exist, and while they may not unleash paranormal chaos, they certainly have the disregard for human lives, especially those of women, to wreak plenty of havoc.

Ultimately, I think movie fans can all agree that the backlash that surrounded Ghostbusters (2016) was completely overblown for a movie that just wasn’t as terrible as so many people would have us believe. Now that Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been released, maybe it’s time we take another look at the original franchise entries, admit they were never that great, and recognize that they are relics that should indefinitely remain in the era from which they came.

Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters 2 and Ghostbusters (2016) are available to stream on Netflix.

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